Malcolm Gladwell is one of the most influential thinkers of our generation.
The same could certainly be said for Tesla founder and Unofficial ‘King Of The Nerds’, Elon Musk.
So our ears pricked up when we were on a conference call with Gladwell and he mentioned he didn’t think Tesla Motors would still be around in five years.
Just a reminder, Tesla is one of the most groundbreaking companies in the world today, their electric cars are revolutionary and have transformed the entire auto industry.
But it’s exactly this that Gladwell sees as its Achilles heel.
Any university-level marketing student can tell you why ‘first-mover’ advantage is so important in new markets.
Your learning and production curves are way ahead of your competition, your brand becomes synonymous with the product, and you have the opportunity to establish a monopoly in the market.
Gladwell though, doesn’t necessarily see it this way.
“I am struck by how the successful people are so often not the original ones”, Gladwell explains.
“I continue to be impressed by how success comes to the later parties, to the derivative folks. Look at the triumvirate of the world’s most powerful companies. Facebook, Google, and Apple, every one of them are derivative companies.
“All three of them were late to the fields in which they are now champions.”
Tesla dominates the electric car market, for now.
But is it possible that the other big manufacturers are simply buying their time, letting Tesla do all the hard work refining and developing the technology before swooping in with their enormous scale and resources?
“I keep telling people who are incredibly enthusiastic about Tesla, and I think, ‘If Tesla is even around five years from now, it would be something.’
“Tesla doesn’t make any money now. It probably will never make any money. Somebody’s going to make a lot of money from electric cars. I really doubt it’s going to be them.
“There’s a reason why all those larger car manufacturers didn’t want to be the first to market, because they realised this principle, that in these kinds of evolutionary markets, where there’s going to be such a distance between the first one in and the market peak, there’s no point to being first.
“Better to let someone else work out all the kinks, and then jump in when it makes more sense, when the market is clearer and more mature.”
Is Gladwell right?
Look, I’m sensible enough not to get between two of the most respected minds of our times. But what I do know is that this has the makings of an extra spicy #NerdFight.
Here’s to hoping!
(FYI, Malcolm Gladwell is coming to Australia with ‘Freakonomics’ author, Stevin Levitt – more info here!)